The word “devastating” gets tossed around a lot, but when it comes to describing the strange and sudden death of Anton Yelchin, it doesn’t feel like enough.
The 27-year-old actor, who died early Sunday morning when his car rolled over him in his own driveway, displayed a wealth of instincts and versatility, and he made the tricky transition from child performer to adult actor with intelligence and ease. Whether appearing as part of the ensemble cast of a blockbuster franchise like the “Star Trek” movies or in a starring role in smaller, more challenging indie fare, Yelchin was usually the most interesting figure on screen. He possessed a wise, ethereal quality but also a boyish accessibility. It was all out there in front of him.
And so with a heavy heart, here’s a look back at five of Yelchin’s most memorable performances.
“Hearts in Atlantis” (2001): Still just a boy, Yelchin made quite an impression in his first major film role opposite heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis. He plays a bullied kid who finds confidence when he befriends the mysterious, older gentleman (Hopkins) renting a room in his mom’s boarding house during the summer of 1960. Yelchin shows a wisdom beyond his years here and not an ounce of child-star precociousness.
“Alpha Dog” (2006): Yelchin found complexity and unexpected avenues into his role here as a 15-year-old who gets kidnapped and used as a pawn in a true story of drugs and murder. His character is actually thrilled to be hanging out with the older, cooler kids, and eventually he gets to drink, smoke pot, play video games and carouse with a couple of beautiful blondes (Amanda Seyfried and Amber Heard) in a swimming pool. Yelchin’s down-to-Earth presence serves him well as our conduit into this crazy, dangerous world.
“Charlie Bartlett” (2007): Yelchin starred as the title character: a wealthy teenager who’s been kicked out of his elite academy and insinuates himself among his new public school classmates by serving as their shrink and pharmacist. He absolutely shines in this offbeat comedy, balancing sweetness and savvy, and he’s got a youthful exuberance that’s infectious.
“Star Trek” (2009): I’m going with the first J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” over the 2013 sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” just because I liked it better. In both films, though, Yelchin gets to have a little fun amid the big-budget spectacle as 17-year-old supergenius Chekov. He’s doing an intentionally cartoony Russian accent — even though he really was Russian — seemingly in a nod to the playful, nostalgic nature of movies. He’s a cog in a massive machine here, but his enthusiasm and likability shine through. His appearance in the third installment, next month’s “Star Trek Beyond,” will be both a welcome and difficult sight to behold.
“Green Room” (2016): Just this spring, Yelchin showed us perhaps the best work of his career in writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s suspenseful indie thriller. He co-stars as a member of a struggling punk band that’s stranded in an increasingly cramped and deadly situation at a backwoods club. Despite the extreme scenario, Yelchin brings recognizable humanity to the role. What he does here is so understated and so true, it’s easy to take the performance for granted.